Story and art by Harold Sakuishi
Published in English by Tokyopop (2005 – Tokypop’s closure)
Irrespective of its quality, Beck is a courageous project; to use one medium (manga) and attempt to explore another medium inside of it (music) seems like an impossible task. And while difficulties in this translation arise, with many soundless scenes preventing a holistic enquiry of its subject matter, Sakuishi does a fantastic job of portraying the minute intricacies of music in complete silence.
At the age of fourteen, Yukio Tanaka is known for his genericness. His lack of aspirations render him a blank slate, overlooked by his peers. He yearns for an exciting life, but is held back by his own dispositions. It’s only after encountering Ryusuke Minami, the lead guitarist of the rock group Beck, that he descends into the music scene, filled with volatility, unpredictability and purpose.
The story is excellent up until a certain point; then it begins to recycle what were great plot points and becomes a bit repetitive. It’s still enjoyable to read, but nothing new happens, leaving the readers relatively unexcited. However, I was only able to find these flaws after finishing the manga, as I was too engrossed to them notice on my first read. Sakuishi sucks us into a dynamic world, filled with passionate musicians struggling to make ends meet. Watching the complex relationships unfold between bands, their members and the politics within the music industry, was as intriguing to explore as it was fun.
At the beginning of Beck, the art is very average. The characters are quite basic, and the backgrounds relatively bland. Though the art does develop over time, after 34 volumes I would have expected it to be much more refined. In saying that, there were still some amazing shots, perfectly embodying the intense atmosphere that comes with live performances, whether it was rocking out at sold-out stadiums or dingy underground bars. While, in conventional standard, the art does leave a lot to be desired, the style does have some relevance. Much like the unpolished, rough sounding rock band that we follow throughout this manga, the art is raw and almost incomplete. Yet, it is charming in its own right, oozing personality.
The characters are the highlight in this manga. While the art doesn’t do much for them, their personalities and intricate backstories provide the reader with substance they can grasp onto. We are immediately drawn to these characters, not just because they are cool or edgy, but because they stand out. They have larger than life personalities, something that’s reflected in their performances. Their passion for music, despite being fictitious, inspired me to go out and try my hardest in whatever I do. As the reader, we get to watch the characters grow, not just physically or through their personality, but by the development of their stage craft, which couples nicely with the developing art.
Overall, the story is a tad too long, and could have been shorter with a more grand finale. Despite this, Beck is a charming manga with many hours of enjoyment locked within. I would recommend this piece to anyone with a love of music, though, you don’t need to be interested in it to fall in love with the characters. It may be repetitive, but I had a blast the entire ride.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Writing – 8
Overall – 8/10